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The new reproductive technologies constitute a broad constellation of technologies aimed at facilitating, preventing, or otherwise intervening in the process of reproduction. This includes, for example, contraception, abortion, antenatal testing, birth technologies, and conceptive technologies. These interventions focus predominantly, although not exclusively, on the female body and usually operate within the medical domain. The new reproductive technologies constitute a highly controversial and contested site. One of the key areas of debate is in relation to the disputed ”life” status of embryos and fetuses. These debates lie at the heart of attempts to draw ethical, moral and legal boundaries around the conditions under which women are allowed to terminate pregnancies, and more recently, in relation to the creation and use of IVF embryos for stem cell research. Another site of contestation is the role of the new reproductive technologies in the production of novel, and often controversial, family structures, redefining relationships and kinship categories – for example, though the technologies of gamete donation, IVF and cryopreservation. This signals for some a threat to ”family values” and the ”natural” reproductive order, while presenting exciting new family-building opportunities for others.
However, while high profile cases of novel family forms and high tech research are undoubtedly significant in sociological terms, they are not representative of the more mundane, everyday experience of the new reproductive technologies. In particular, the technologies themselves are inaccessible to many people, either through religious, social or cultural prescription, or because of prohibitive costs. Conversely, others may find themselves fighting for the right to not use particular technologies (for example, unwanted abortions or sterilizations). Race and class are therefore crucial dimensions to people’s experiences of the new reproductive technologies, both within national contexts and internationally.
- Edwards, J., Franklin, S., Hirsch, E., Price, F., & Strathern, M. (1999) Technologies of Procreation: Kinship in the Age of Assisted Conception, 2nd edn. Routledge, London.
- Williams, C., Kitzinger, J., & Henderson, L. (2003) Envisaging the embryo in stem cell research: rhetorical strategies and media reporting of the ethical debates. Sociology of Health and Illness 25 (7): 793-814.
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